OK. We haven’t got it easy in Hull. Poverty, generational unemployment, migrant communities, strict territorial boundaries – all contribute for a high proportion of families in difficulty and therefore children who need to be looked after. Others can talk – with insight and wisdom – about the social and cultural implications of this situation.
Meanwhile, those of us who work directly with children in the residential sector have to deal with the outcome on a daily basis.
Responding to children who behave in a challenging and unacceptable way – ranging from verbal abuse through criminal damage and antisocial behaviour up to assaults on carers – is a constant backdrop to our work. We have good systems for dealing with each individual child. We have a Youth Justice system for taking them through courts. We have a staff group which wants to lead the young people to a better informed choice about dealing with the issues they face in their lives – the losses, the anger, the frustrations and the despair that they all feel from time to time. We didn’t have an in integrated approach to making things better.
Residential settings traditionally applied “consequences” for “bad” behaviour. Repeated infringement would lead to repeated or increased consequences. These consequences were in reality sanctions imposed by staff with the aim of deterring such behaviours. Any summary analysis quickly shows that they were largely ineffective.
Equally ineffective was the tendency to avoid the challenge to unacceptable behaviour, where well-meaning staff would “make it all right” by side-stepping what a young person was doing that was not acceptable.
Something had to change.
We started by training all the contracted staff – in the basic ideas, in circle work, and an increasing number as facilitators. We introduced circles as a basic model of communications, both with children and between staff and children – and between staff! Young people became involved in deciding boundaries, in agreeing what would happen if guidelines were broken, they picked menus, they contributed to house rules. They became part of the decision making process and felt some ownership of it.
We routinely used affective statements and questions in responding to many events, from minor disagreements to more serious flare-ups. Mini-conferences, held almost on the spot, proved highly effective in helping people who had fallen out to rebuild their relationships (and I am not just talking about young people!).
And if something really had gone wrong, we used the Restorative Questions as a means of exploring it. This means the no-blame, non-judgemental questions that allow a wrongdoer to realise the impact of his/her actions on others, and equally allows the “harmed person” to perhaps appreciate how what they had been doing was affecting someone else. Or to understand the difficulties that the wrongdoer was facing at the time and have some empathy for him or her.
Yes, there was resistance. Yes it was seen as a fad. Yes it was “another management imposed technique”.
But in the end, it works. It has helped to tackle bullying. It has reduced serious events within the homes. It has reduced police and criminal justice involvement. It has demonstrably helped children to see their actions in context. The result is that the staff team are open to accepting that Restorative Practices, with its key elements of working with, being fair, allowing emotions and using a no blame question style, is a framework for evaluating and reflecting on how we all interact with each other.
That’s how we build a sense of community, an appreciation of relationships. That’s the way forward.
(And I haven’t even started on how it has helped the staff team work together.)
Senior Care Officer
Children & Young People’s Services
Hull City Council
This article summarizes the ongoing process of implementation of Restorative Practice in the children’s homes in Hull. It is to be read as a work in progress. In the homes, change is steadily happening as we speak.
HCRP closely collaborates with Hull’s looked-after-children’s homes. The goal is to create a restorative milieu in each of the homes that offers safety and support for residents and staff. This work is part of the city-wide strategy to become the world’s first restorative city where all 23,000 professionals who work with children, young people and families use Restorative Practice (RP) as an underpinning philosophy.
There are 7 children’s homes in Hull each with their own specific purpose, focus and dynamics. Wansbeck, Elgar Road and 1123 are “mainstream” long-term children’s homes; Merlin Bridge is a fostering assessment home; Marlborough is a family support and respite home; and Kinloss and Lime Tree are homes for children with disabilities.
Since 2007/2008 great efforts have been made to train all residential staff in RP. By the end of 2010 most staff had received training in at least, “Introduction to Restorative Practices.” Some were also trained in “Effective Use of Circles” and still others have even been on the “Facilitator Skills Training” and/or the “Training for Trainers.” A couple of years down the line, however, we noticed that it was more difficult than expected for staff to adapt their practice. Some expressed to be confused about the expectations, others said they didn’t feel skilled and confident enough to use restorative approaches. To be fair – and clear, hardly ever people were blatantly reluctant to change.
On the other hand, we did observe pockets of good practice from those ‘early adapters’ for whom the RP training worked as an inspiration to further explore their restorative instincts. But these people often articulated frustration for not receiving enough support to implement Restorative Practice across the whole home. We therefore had to come up with a strategy that rose above these shortcomings.
P3 is a programme-wide strategic approach to support the effective implementation of RP. The system provides an explicit road map to achieve proficient and consistent use of restorative practices throughout the network of children’s homes in Hull. The P3 implementation strategy is especially unique, because it so cleverly includes every single member of staff in the process. Not the consultants or so-called experts, but the staff team itself comes up with creative ways to introduce and become proficient with all essential elements of RP. The model therefore is truly restorative in nature.
The P3 Implementation System is also a slow-paced process that guarantees that no staff member is left behind. Rather than trying to swallow the elephant at once, the strategy allows staff to digest the different essential practices and understandings of RP one bite at a time. Throughout the whole journey internal and external support (and pressure) is abundant. The motto is “to get it right and make it stick.”
Merlin Bridge has been one of the homes that pioneered in the use of restorative practices. It was therefore decided that this home would lead the way in the whole-programme implementation of RP. They were to embark on a journey that had never been undertaken by any other children’s home in the world: to achieve proficiency with Restorative Practice through the use of the P3 Implementation Strategy. Marlborough and Elgar Road had their eyes fixed on what was happening, because they would closely follow in Merlin Bridge’s footsteps.